Friday, January 13, 2012

This day in history

A friend from church emailed me with a one-line message, that today is the day Stephen Foster died. I am lucky to have friends to tell me things like that! We love Stephen Foster here on this Web log.

Stephen Foster died Jan. 13, 1864.

Here he is on one of my favorite sites, Find a Grave. You can see a picture of his grave. It looks just like millions of other graves. Stephen Foster is buried in Pittsburgh.

I read that book about him called "Doo-Dah" that came out a few years ago. That is a terrible title! One of these days we should hash over what that book should have been called. But otherwise it is a good book. A lot of it was upsetting to me because although I had always been a Stephen Foster listener I had not known much about him.

It was surprising to me, because you associate so many of his songs with the south, that so much of his life was spent not far from where I live. There was some association with North East, Pa., which is right over the border from us. Foster spent some time there loafing, dodging school, something like that. If I remember right. I may be wrong. But I do remember mention of North East in addition to other towns I knew.

Another local connection for me was that Foster wrote a lot of his songs for Christy's Minstrels. Christy's Minstrels were from Buffalo.

Reading the book I actually cried when he died. I had known he died young but I did not know how bad things were, that he was this drunk, that he lived in the Bowery, that people laughed at him. You are used to fiction and I kept expecting things to get better.

It is said that the last song Stephen Foster wrote was "Beautiful Dreamer." Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the great Nelson Eddy.

Hahaha... my favorite comment, up at the top:

His diction is perfect. There are no singers like him . Thomas Hampson couldent carry his dirty underware. What a voice.

I love that comment! The spelling of "underware" is what makes it.

I also love how Nelson Eddy mentions the great pianist Leonard Pennario. Here I was just looking for a good performance of "Beautiful Dreamer" and I found this and play it, and I find Pennario is mentioned. I love that!

Here is a magnificent Hollywood treatment of Stephen Foster's death, starring the great Al Jolson. This is a day for greats! This is from the movie "Swanee River." Jolson is E.P. Christy of, yes, Buffalo's own Christy's Minstrels. Yes, I know this is highly politically incorrect. It is a miracle it is even on YouTube. But it is of its era, try to remember that. Plus, if you are making a historical movie, you try to be accurate. My guess is that they do a pretty good job of re-creating what a Civil War-era minstrel show was like. And this was 1939 so there were still people around who remembered.

I have to say I am starting to  love Al Jolson's voice. He is from this different era and I love what he does with a song, with the syllables of a song.

At the end it is sweet. He tells the crowd: "Everybody sing!


So we do not leave on a down note here is the magnificent "Camptown Races" from the same film.


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